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The Tetragrammaton.

The Tetragrammaton is the four-letter Hebrew theonym יהוה, the name of God in the Hebrew Bible. It is usually transliterated as YHWH. The four letters, written and read from right to left, are yodh, he, waw, and he. The pronounciation of the name is unknown. In English versions of the Bible, it is conventionally translated as "Lord". Observant Jews may use the terms "Adonai" ("my Lord") or "HaShem" ("the Name"), where the latter may be denoted in writing by the abbreviation ה׳. A short form of the name, יה, occurs at the end of the word "Hallelujah" (הללויה), which means "praise יה".




The Digrammaton, יָהּ (YH), and the Tetragrammaton, יהוה (YHWH).
The Tetragrammaton in Phoenician (12th century BCE to 150 BCE), Paleo-Hebrew (10th century BCE to 135 CE), and square Hebrew (3rd century BCE to present) scripts.
Symbol of the sun with the Tetragrammaton in the middle (with vowel points from "Adonai", giving the vocalization Jehovah). From Ulrika Eleonora church in Söderhamn, Sweden.
  • אֵ֣לֶּה תוֹלְד֧וֹת הַשָּׁמַ֛יִם וְהָאָ֖רֶץ בְּהִבָּֽרְאָ֑ם בְּי֗וֹם עֲשׂ֛וֹת יְהֹוָ֥ה אֱלֹהִ֖ים אֶ֥רֶץ וְשָׁמָֽיִם׃ וְכֹ֣ל ׀ שִׂ֣יחַ הַשָּׂדֶ֗ה טֶ֚רֶם יִֽהְיֶ֣ה בָאָ֔רֶץ וְכׇל־עֵ֥שֶׂב הַשָּׂדֶ֖ה טֶ֣רֶם יִצְמָ֑ח כִּי֩ לֹ֨א הִמְטִ֜יר יְהֹוָ֤ה אֱלֹהִים֙ עַל־הָאָ֔רֶץ וְאָדָ֣ם אַ֔יִן לַֽעֲבֹ֖ד אֶת־הָֽאֲדָמָֽה׃ וְאֵ֖ד יַֽעֲלֶ֣ה מִן־הָאָ֑רֶץ וְהִשְׁקָ֖ה אֶֽת־כׇּל־פְּנֵ֥י הָֽאֲדָמָֽה׃ וַיִּ֩יצֶר֩ יְהֹוָ֨ה אֱלֹהִ֜ים אֶת־הָֽאָדָ֗ם עָפָר֙ מִן־הָ֣אֲדָמָ֔ה וַיִּפַּ֥ח בְּאַפָּ֖יו נִשְׁמַ֣ת חַיִּ֑ים וַֽיְהִ֥י הָֽאָדָ֖ם לְנֶ֥פֶשׁ חַיָּֽה׃
    • Genesis 2:4–7
    • Translations:
      • Such is the story of heaven and earth when they were created. When God יהוה made earth and heaven—when no shrub of the field was yet on earth and no grasses of the field had yet sprouted, because God יהוה had not sent rain upon the earth and there were no human beings to till the soil, but a flow would well up from the ground and water the whole surface of the earth—God יהוה formed the Human from the soil's humus, blowing into his nostrils the breath of life: the Human became a living being.
      • These are the generations of the heavens and of the earth when they were created, in the day that the Lord God made the earth and the heavens, and every plant of the field before it was in the earth, and every herb of the field before it grew: for the Lord God had not caused it to rain upon the earth, and there was not a man to till the ground. But there went up a mist from the earth, and watered the whole face of the ground. And the Lord God formed man of the dust of the ground, and breathed into his nostrils the breath of life; and man became a living soul.
    • Comments:
  • וּלְשֵׁ֤ת גַּם־הוּא֙ יֻלַּד־בֵּ֔ן וַיִּקְרָ֥א אֶת־שְׁמ֖וֹ אֱנ֑וֹשׁ אָ֣ז הוּחַ֔ל לִקְרֹ֖א בְּשֵׁ֥ם יְהֹוָֽה׃
The Tetragrammaton as painted by Francisco Goya. Detail from the fresco Adoration of the Name of God, 1772.
The abbreviation ה׳ rendered as a crowned letter on a decalogue plaque in Bevis Marks Synagogue, London. The verse is Exodus 20:2: "I יהוה am your God."
"The Lord restores sight to the blind; the Lord makes those who are bent stand straight; the Lord loves the righteous." (Psalms 146:8)
The Tetragrammaton on a Torah scroll (Numbers 18:27–30).
See also: Shema Yisrael.
The Shema and the V'ahavta, which contain multiple occurrences of the Tetragrammaton. Notice the tagin decorations on the yodh and he letters.
The abbreviation ה׳ on a synagogue in Holešov, Czech Republic. The verse is 1 Samuel 2:6: "יהוה deals death and gives life, casts down into Sheol and raises up."
Memorial plaque from the Nożyk Synagogue in Warsaw, Poland. The Tetragrammaton is depicted hovering above a menorah.


  • When a man pronounces the Tetragrammaton, write the Cabalists, the nine heavens are shaken, and all the spirits cry out to each other: "Who thus disturbs the kingdom of heaven?" And then the earth reveals to the first heaven the sins of the foolhardy person who took the eternal one's name in vain, and the accusing Verb is transmitted from circle to circle, from star to star, and from hierarchy to hierarchy.
The Tetragrammaton in stained glass. From St Ann's Church, Manchester.
  • It thus becomes possible to determine with a fair degree of certainty the historical pronunciation of the Tetragrammaton, the results agreeing with the statement of Ex. iii. 14, in which Yhwh terms Himself אהיה "I will be", a phrase which is immediately preceded by the fuller term "I will be that I will be", or, as in the English versions, "I am" and "I am that I am". The name יהוה is accordingly derived from the root הוה (= היה‎), and is regarded as an imperfect. This passage is decisive for the pronunciation "Yahweh"; for the etymology was undoubtedly based on the known word. The oldest exegetes, such as Onḳelos, and the Targumim of Jerusalem and pseudo-Jonathan regard "Ehyeh" and "Ehyeh asher Ehyeh" as the name of the Divinity, and accept the etymology of "hayah" = "to be" (comp. Samuel b. Meïr, commentary on Ex. iii. 14).
  • The pronunciation of the Name was forbidden except to priests of the temple during the benediction of the people (Num. 6:22–7) and on the Day of Atonement, when the high priest spoke it ten times before the assembled worshippers (Lev. 16:30). Because unpointed Hebrew is composed entirely of consonants, it was possible to write the name in the books of the Torah and yet still conceal its pronunciation. It appears as יהוה, which is transliterated into the Latin characters IHVH (sometimes YHWH or JHWH). But the name could not be written in Greek without revealing the way of saying it. Josephus was a priest and knew the correct pronunciation of the Name, but states in his Antiquities (II, 12, 4) that religion forbids him to divulge it. Philo calls the Name ineffable and says that it is lawful only for those whose ears and tongues are purified by wisdom to hear and utter it in a holy place—in other words, for priests in the temple.
The Tetragrammaton in stained glass. From the Winchester Cathedral.
  • The letters יהוה YHVH of the Tetragrammaton are used to imply the whole gamut of the four elements. י Y as the creative function of the Archetypal Realm, is Fire the Chiah; the first ה H represents the Cup, the symbol of the passive character of the Creative World, and is Water the Neschamah; ו V is the Son, the active vice-regent of the Father, and is Air the Ruach; and the final H ה is the Nephesch; the passive receptive Earth, fructifying all things.
The Tetragrammaton in stained glass. From Grace Episcopal Church in Decorah, Iowa.
  • According to Ricius, world history may be divided into three stages based upon the names of God in the Bible. The first period was the natural period, where God reveals himself through the three-lettered divine name shaddai. Then there is the Torah period, where God reveals to Moses the divine name of four letters, the Tetragrammaton. In the final period of grace and redemption, God reveals the Tetragrammaton plus the letter shin, or the letter of the Logos (Christ), spelling yhswh, or the Kabbalistic name of Jesus. Thus, the name of Jesus, or the miraculous name, became the pronouncable name of the previously unpronouncable yhwh.

See also

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